San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias
BRCC
Binational Multidisciplinary Expeditions
Agua Verde-Punta
  Mechudo 2003

Isla Guadalupe 2000
Lindblad Binational 1997
On Collecting and
  Expeditions: A Botanical
  Perspective
Binational Multidisciplinary Expeditions

Research in the Peninsula

Photo of burros loaded down with plant presses, on a research expedition in Baja California In the 20th Century, two institutions -- California Academy of Sciences and San Diego Natural History Museum -- have been dominant forces in supporting and documenting the majority of scientific efforts from the Baja California peninsula and its islands.

The California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco began its long and prosperous history of natural history expeditions to Lower California in 1888 and continued these sporadic events until 1966. The San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM) started sponsoring expeditions in 1926 and sometimes joined efforts with CAS in cooperative research projects until 1966. Due to their long devotion to the region, the two institutions house the most thorough collections anywhere of the biodiversity from Baja California.

Research in northwestern Mexico did not stop after 1966, but most of the activities were performed by separate individuals studying specific disciplines. Not for 30 years have any large, multidisciplinary field trips been conducted into Baja California, although many areas are still little or not explored biologically.

The Need for Exploration

Natural history research is almost an element of the past in respect to current trends in science within the U.S.A. However, with an increasing need for knowledge about biodiversity and ecology in order to promote conservation and management of natural environments, basic natural history studies are still the most fundamental sources of information. Natural history expeditions not only provide the scientific community with specimen documentation for species distributions and basic data essential for testing hypotheses, they also allow for an excellent opportunity for scientists from different backgrounds and countries to come together and work, compare ideas, foster good relations, and promote future collaborative efforts and research.

The Unexplored Mountains

Many natural areas located in northwestern Mexico have had only minimal scientific investigation. One such region is on the Lower California (Baja California) peninsula in the northern part of the state of Baja California Sur. Two mountain ranges, the Sierra San Francisco and the Sierra Guadalupe lie on the eastern edge of the Vizcaino Desert and provide a link between the tropical components of the southern peninsula and temperate influences of the north. The small amount of scientific documentation that has been performed indicates that a sort of biological mosaic of species from both tropical and temperate climates exists in this area.

The topography and habitats of these mountain ranges are quite varied and provide refugia for species from both north and south. In the past, when sea levels were higher and the surrounding low deserts were under water, these mountain ranges probably provided the only corridor for plant and animal dispersal along the peninsula. Adding to the appeal of the region, not only can many species' range extensions be found here, but many endemic species are present, and it is presumed that various new species may be encountered in this region.

The Expedition Team

Our approach to natural history research will involve an invited team of scientists from both the U.S.A. and Mexico. This binational, multidisciplinary group will include specialists from such fields as botany, ornithology, entomology, mammalogy, paleontology, invertebrate zoology, and herpetology. The primary emphases of the expedition will be to observe, record, and collect natural history information on the biodiversity and geology of the study sites.

Building Collaborations

We envision that the proposed project will not only provide science with basic natural history information integral for establishing the criteria used to evaluate a balance between nature and human impact, but this expedition will also foster a balance between Mexican and American scientific efforts. This aspect of the venture may prove to be an important step in promoting future binational cooperative endeavors that will benefit science in general.